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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, July 31, 2005

A couple of things I noticed in the paper today

First, the scary one:
We're pleased to announce that Patrick McIlheran will join us as a full-time editorial columnist. He will leave his position on the newspaper's design desk to do this, joining the Editorial Board in a couple of months and writing at least twice a week.
Next, something for all the FRAUD!!!! people who keep pushing for a voter ID law--a furthe reminder that fake IDs are not that hard to come by:
A Division of Motor Vehicles counter clerk who reportedly told police he faked at least five state ID cards was charged Thursday with felony counts of bribery and misconduct in public office.

The state Department of Transportation has suspended Alfredo Ramirez [. . .] from his job without pay while an internal investigation is carried out, said Gary Guenther, director of the division's Bureau of Field Services.

Ramirez, a five-year DOT employee, is accused of working up a fake identification card for an undercover police officer who presented fake documents while Ramirez was working at the DMV office on College Ave. in South Milwaukee.
If you know the right people, you can vote as often as you want, regardless of a photo ID requirement. I have written about this before, so I won't go into it all again, but I will once more say that the best anti-fraud protection is trained, qualified personnel who know and follow the laws that already exist.

Last Call

So the National Liquor Bar is closing to make way for a Walgreens. I hope they've put Art Kumbalek on a suicide watch, ain'a?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Double the RDA of Educational Straw Men

Chris from On The Borderline has posted--and crossposted to the Badger Blog alliance--"Nine Assumptions of Government Schooling." These come, apparently, from John Taylor Gatto, who is an anti-public school crusader. (There is an irony in that, in Gatto's crusade, he rails against the "dumbing down" of children and the corporatist mentality of public schools. These are the same things that I--and other liberal educators--have been fighting against, but starting from another place entirely.)

These nine items are thoroughly offensive, not to mention untrue or, at best, gross exaggerations, and I feel the need to deconstruct each. Please bear in mind that these responses, of course, do not represent the opinions of anyone other than one guy in a classroom trying to do the best he can.

1. Social cohesion is not possible through other means than government schooling; school is the main defense against social chaos.
The American people put a lot of pressure on schools and teachers. One of my themes recently has been "the other 82%," the idea that, even though I am expected to, I can't really make up for everything else that goes on in a child's life once he or she leaves my classroom. But anyone who believes, realistically, that schools are the last defense against "social chaos" is smoking some pretty good crack. Social cohesion is and has been created in countless ways in countless parts of the world across time.

I wonder if this point--and several that follow--doesn't stem from a lingering resentment of busing and desegregation. It is pretty ridiculous now to think about schools and courts forcing students to ride buses for two or more hours a day to integrate schools. I think all of us in the liberal desegregationist side of the fence see solutions not in busing but in examing and redressing segregation issues within the community first.

2. Children cannot learn to tolerate each other unless first socialized by government agents.
This is not true. Not at all true. And again, I wonder if there is not some holdover resentment toward desegregation attempts. Fact is, children learn to hate or love from their parents, and while schooling and socialization can help overcome those barriers, tolerant children are created every day outside of school. In addition, I can't fathom why anyone would object to "tolerance" education (the programs I know of never take the place of core curricula--don't worry, kids still get the three Rs). In fact, I make it a point in my own classrooms to call students on their intolerant and insensitive behavior, explain why it is inappropriate, and ask them to stop. I brook no racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia in my classes--in part, because it's good manners, and in part because that attitude doesn't fly in the real world, either, or at the university. Can I be faulted for preparing my students for life after high school? Or perhaps these anti-gubmint-schoolers yearn for the days of segregated and intolerant society?

3. The only safe mentors of children are certified experts with government-approved conditioning; children must be protected from the uncertified, including parents.
This is also not an assumption I hold. There is danger--as expressed in the local paper's series on Milwaukee's voucher program--in placing students with teachers who do not know such basic things as the content area, multiple intelligences theory, and cognitive development theory. Parents, of course, know their own children's learning styles and stage of development, and as long as they have access to quality instructional materials, can do okay. But teachers expected to handle a room of 20 or 30 kids and teach them, say, geometry, need to know both math and how to handle the kids in the class. Certification is, of course, not necessary for this, but it is not something just anyone can step in off the street and do. I welcome anyone to join me when school starts this September; you can try teaching my ninth-grade English class for a day and see whether you agree.

4. Compelling children to violate family, cultural and religious norms does not interfere with the development of their intellects or characters.
I am curous to know what "family, cultural, and religious norms" they think we violate. It's true, as I mentioned above, I don't accept open expressions of intolerance, cruelty, or bigotry in my classes, but if that's the family norm then that family has problems I am not qualified to solve. I'm guessing this is mostly about the "religious" norms. But even here, schools do not systematically set out to compel students to violate anything. Kids can carry their Bibles, say grace before eating, pray facing Mecca (I have seen it done), eat kosher food, be excused from sex ed or the evolution unit, and so on. This is the law and school policy everywhere I have been.

5. In order to dilute parental influence, children must be disabused of the notion that mother and father are sovereign in morality or intelligence.
I don't even know where to start with this one, since it makes little sense to me. Serously, if someone can explain how schools do this, I'd like to know.

6. Families should be encouraged to expend concern on the general education of everyone but discouraged from being unduly concerned with their own children's education.
I laughed out loud at this one. Teachers love to see parents. All the time. We want them to be partners in their children's education. We want them to be involved. The biggest single complaint I have about my teaching experience here in Milwaukee is that parents don't seem to care as much as they should. They don't read with their children, attend conferences, check homework. Give me more, please.

7. The State has predominant responsibility for training, morals and beliefs. Children who escape state scrutiny will become immoral.
I don't know a single person who believes this. And I know a lot of people.

8. Children from families with different beliefs, backgrounds and styles must be forced together even if those beliefs violently contradict one another. Robert Frost, the poet, was wrong when he maintained that "good fences make good neighbors."
I laughed out loud again, mostly at the Frost reference. Take a moment and read the poem, then come back. Ready? Okay. It is clear from the poem that Frost is arguing against fences. "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/ That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,/ And spills the upper boulders in the sun" denotes nature's abhorrence of artificial barriers between people. The neighbor building the fence "moves in darkness." To suggest that Frost "maintains" that good fences make good neighbors is absurd and a gross misreading of the text, and says something about the critical thinking skills of anyone who would read it that way. But beyond that, to the larger point made here, is again a seeming reference to desegregation efforts. I cannot condone such bigotry.

9. Coercion in the name of liberty is a valid use of state power.
Here is an opportunity for me to discuss what seems to be an underlying thread: People who believe these things must also believe that the gubmint schools are out to turn their children into Bad People who are Not Like Mommy And Daddy. Let us start with a news flash: Most children rebel against their parents; it is a key feature of adolescence. This has nothing to do with the gubmint schools. In addition, people who believe this are operating under the false assumption that the teachers in the gubmint schools are all mindless, godless communists whose sole purpose is to turn children into mindless servant drones of the state. These are people who have never set foot in a classroom. I have. I have been in my own classroom, of course, but I have also seen my colleagues at work. Every good teacher I know--and most of the bad and mediocre ones, too--wants children to become vibrant, vital, critical, smart individuals. I suppose the push to make these kids explore the boundaries of their own knowledge and discover whatever it is inside of them that will drive them to academic success could be construed as coercion. But I don't see it that way, and I don't see how anyone with actual, as opposed imagined, knowledge of what happens in school could believe it.

In the end, I think about what many of these same conservative anti-gubmint-schoolers demand from public schools. They want everyone in schools to say the same prayers, they want everybody to learn how to read in the same rote fashion, they want everyone to learn that their creator designed life on earth. This is coercion. This is hypocrisy.

I am happy when my students just write a good essay, read outside of class, or get accepted to a good college. I don't want drones, I don't teach them that mommy and daddy are wrong, and I don't force them to suppress their personalities or moral and religious beliefs. I don't know any gubmint school teacher who does.

This list of nine is a collection straw men, exaggerations, distortions, and propaganda. It is misleading to say that they accurately describe the public schools that, at least here in Wisconsin, are a part of our constitutional repsonsibility. It is a lie even to suggest that they describe me.

Friday, July 29, 2005

A Late Friday Random Ten

The Coolnes-Factor-Enhanced Edition

1. "Boab Tree" Willy Porter from Dog Eared Dream. Great album, great song, great guy--8/10.
2. "Round o' Blues" Shawn Colvin from E-Town Live 2. How can you not love Shawn Colvin? And, given that the CD supports a great program, this gets top marks--10/10.
3. "I am Done" Melissa Ferrick from Willing to Wait. Meh. 3/10.
4. "Perfect Blue Buildings" Counting Crows from August and Everything After. This is so 1992. 4/10.
5. "You Can Choose" Carrie Newcomer from My Father's Only Son. Rollicking good song, and it always puts me in mind of a story: Back in, I think, 1996, Sarah and I saw Carrie and her band in a park in Janesville one summer night. It was right after My Father's Only Son had been released, and she played the title track, a ballad about being a tomboy in a family of only daughters. A little kid sitting near us, at the end of the song, turned to me and asked, "Is she really a boy?" 8/10.
6. "Hallelujah" Martin Sexton from Live at the World Cafe Vol. 12. Martin Sexton is a national treasure. "Does the devil wear a suit and tie/ Or does he work at the Dairy Queen?" 8/10.
7. "Time" Tom Waits from Rain Dogs. Tom Waits never merits less than a seven. But I don't like this song much. 4/10.
8. "Commonplace Streets" The Jayhawks from Blue Earth. An early album, but a favorite song of mine because of the way it breaks down and rebuilds at the end. A lesson for lesser bands. 8/10.
9. "Be Nice to Me" The Nields from Bob on the Ceiling. One of the best opening tracks ever. 8/10.
10. "A Crooked Line" Darryl Purpose from A Crooked Line. "Now I wonder is this vast expanse of laundromats and taco stands/ Part of God's original design/ Or maybe just a huge mistake that God allowed mankind to make/ While we went walking down that crooked line." 9/10.

A decent draw this week--62/100, or 62% cool.

Notes

The battle is joined! Kind of.

Condolences to Belle, who did not win this week's "Blog of the Week" contest. As with Howard Dean and Leon Todd, my endorsement probably killed her chances. And Paul needs to be careful about who he's calling a dick.

Last day of summer school! Yay!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I'm not obsessed with David Clarke

Really, I'm not.

But here's one more story about the thing: Turns out the deputy that Sheriff Clarke re-assigned in retaliation is suing, given that the re-assignment violates the department's regulations:
The lawsuit was filed late Wednesday on behalf of Schuh and the union, the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriff's Association. It accuses Clarke of violating the deputy's right to free speech by reassigning him in retaliation for writing [an opinon column critical of Clarke in a union newspaper]. It also claims Clarke violated the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which allows officers "to freely engage in political activity without adverse employment consequences." [. . .]

When Clarke read the article and spotted the union newspaper in several deputies' mailboxes, he demanded that each person who had received it write a report "explaining the reason for the presence of that newspaper in their mailbox," the suit says.

The area Clarke chose for Schuh's new assignment was a square mile defined in an earlier Journal Sentinel article as the "city's deadliest area" and a "high killing area," the suit says.

The union agreement calls for two weeks' notice of reassignment, the suit says. Department policy also requires proper training of deputies who are given new duties, it says. It claims Clarke violated both of these.
So there you go.

In the comments (well, the sole comment) to the post below was blog-neighbor Heraldblog noting that he's glad Clarke did not win the mayoral election last spring. Imagine the kind of huffery, puffery, and tyranny that Clarke could throw around from the City Hall. That got me thinking even more, on the drive to work today, about how Clarke might have reacted to losing the PabstCity vote, as Mayor Tom Barrett did the other day.

Now, I haven't been following the PabstCity stuff as much as I should have (a boy can only have so many irons in the fire, you know), but other blog-neighbor Scott noted the vote, and has commented elsewhere. It's clear from news reports that the Milwaukee Common Council just simply bucked Barrett: Aldermen who were thinking about supporting the city's involvement in the project reversed course to defeat the plan.

Barrett reacted with an angry press conference. Clarke, on the other hand, would have reassigned the aldermen to pick up recycling or something.

I suppose it should be noted that Clarke probably would not have supported throwing tax dollars into PabstCity, given how much he dislikes throwing tax money away--except when he doesn't. (Nod to Xoff for the pointer to the Milwaukee Sherriff blog.)

Russ isn't running for anything, is he?

In my inbox this afternoon:
FEINGOLD TO MAKE SERIES OF SPEECHES ON THE ADMINISTRATION’S FLAWED NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY

Lack of Coherent Iraq Policy is Further Evidence that the Administration has Lost its Focus on Making the Country Safer

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold late yesterday gave the first in a series of speeches on the administration’s dangerous failure to develop a strong national security policy that protects U.S. interests.   Feingold’s speech last night emphasized the need for sustained attention and debate regarding the future of the U.S. military commitment to Iraq.  Future speeches will place Iraq in the context of a broader national security vision, emphasizing the need to refocus U.S. efforts on a global campaign to expose terrorist networks, to deny them opportunities to sustain themselves and grow, and to defeat them decisively.    

In June, Feingold introduced a resolution, the first of its kind in the Senate, that calls on the President to identify the specific missions that the U.S. military is being asked to accomplish in Iraq, the timeframe in which those missions can be successfully achieved, and the timeframe in which U.S. troops can subsequently return home from Iraq.  Feingold traveled with four of his Senate colleagues to Iraq in February.  A copy of yesterday’s speech is attached. 

“It’s time for Congress to have a serious debate about the situation in Iraq and how it fits into the campaign against terrorism,” Feingold said.  “Post 9/11, the Administration published a list of countries where al Qaeda was operating.  Iraq wasn’t even on it.  Now it’s the number one training ground for terrorists from around the world.  Our nation’s security is at stake and it’s time for Congress and the administration to level with the American people, and develop a policy worthy of our brave men and women in uniform.”

This was the first in a series of speeches Feingold plans to give in an effort to make sure that the country’s leaders pay sustained attention to the global fight against terrorist networks and ensure that our policies in Iraq are consistent with that fight.

“When I was in Iraq in February, I was able to witness firsthand the resolve all of our troops and I cannot describe how very proud I am of all of those who serve,” Feingold said.  “It is with those soldiers in mind that I will continue to put pressure on the President to clarify the objectives and timeframe of the current U.S. mission in Iraq.  We owe our brave servicemen and women a concrete timetable for achieving clear goals, not vague, open-ended commitments.  Our effort in the fight against terrorism, and the confidence of the American people, will be strengthened by a clear sense of where we are going in Iraq, and when we can realistically expect to get there.

# # #
You can read more here. Clearly he's setting out to bolster his national security creds. And, given that this far out it's not hard to find people speculating idly--or not so idly--about the 2008 field. I have my own theories (and my own favorites) about 2008, and I firmly believe that Russ's hat is in the ring. Other probables (bookmark this post so that in late 2007, you can link back to it and laugh at how wrong I was) include Hillary™; John O'Millworker; Joementum (the sequel!) Biden (whose campaign started, I think, at about 9 PM last November 2); John Warner; Evan Blech--I mean, Bayh; Tom Vilsack (the "President Sack" jokes write themselves); Wes (not David) Clark; Bill Richardson; Vermin Supreme; and maybe--maybe--Barbara Boxer. Give or take.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Oh

The governor signed the budget. He found money to buy textbooks for my classroom. I'm okay with that.

Seeing how it's a Big Deal, I though I should say something.

More on the petty tyrant

I don't have a lot of time for commentary now, since I've got to get to work, but this story is a follow-up to the story I noted yesterday, of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke's retalliation against a deputy for criticizing him in a union newsletter.

In the story, Clarke admits--in a classic "non-denial denial"--that he reassigned the deputy as a punishment, and that he'll do it again if someone else doesn't have the good sense to shut up:
Asked if he had retaliated against [Deputy] Schuh, Clarke said the courts would decide that, but he made clear that deputies who speak out should not expect valentines from him.

"One cannot expect, internally, that if they make some criticism against the sheriff that they will never be reassigned, that they will be immune from accountability," Clarke said. [. . .]

Clarke said questions about how it was decided to put Schuh on the new patrol were reasonable but were an internal matter he would not discuss. It would be a "waste of time" to spend time thinking about that now, Clarke told reporters.
While the article makes a big deal out Schuh's supporters' worrying over the danger he'd be in patrolling that particuilar neighborhood, I would like to point out that that was not my criticism at all. I know--in part because of where I work--that violence in these neighborhoods tends to be neither random nor anti-authority. The criticism I levied was at the absurd notion that a single (older, white) deputy going door-to-door in the neighborhood; this is a waste of resources. The "small army of reporters" who followed Schuh on his first day confirmed this:
By about 1 p.m., [Schuh] had accumulated a stack of cards nearly an inch thick, each representing one home or business. Only one person had a complaint and most weren't home, said Schuh, who refused to express his opinion of his new assignment. On Monday, he had called the new post a punishment.

He stopped at a gas station for a bottle of water--paid for with his own money, he said--and noted that his legs weren't yet feeling sore. He said rain gear was too cumbersome to lug around, so as a light drizzle fell, water began to soak into his uniform.

Most residents of the area didn't say much to Schuh, talking to him briefly and through screen doors.
This is your Sheriff's "comprehensive strategy to restore order."

My favorite part of the article, though, was Clarke's self-aggrandizement. Under the bold heading of "Hands-on Sheriff," we get this (note the droll last line):
Clarke took pains to counter any notion that he is sheltered from harm, recounting in detail his response to a fight near N. 34th and W. Cherry streets. After appearing at a Christmas event near there in 2003, a citizen flagged him down, and Clarke soon after apprehended a man with a butcher knife, Clarke said Tuesday. Shots were fired by another man. "I think to scare me off," Clarke said.

Clarke added Tuesday: "In an act of selflessness, I put the community's safety first and I expect the people in this organization to do the same."

He added: "Where was my backup?"

A department news release issued at the time said Clarke pursued the man in a car and was assisted by a sheriff's deputy in making the arrest.
I do so enjoy it when a reporter gets the tone just right. Clarke is not just a petty tyrant, but he must think he's Superman, too. Dangerous combination, that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Milwaukee's murders, Petty Tyrant Edition

In all the state budget hoopla, you might miss this story of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke's petty tyranny. Now, this blog is no friend to Sheriff Clarke; I hammered him pretty good back when he was running for mayor. But I have tended to leave the Clarke-bashing to others for the last year or so.

However, it's become clear that Clarke is suffering from the same kind of delusional power that infects other elected Republicans here in the state and nationally:
A deputy who last week blasted Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. in a union newsletter was reassigned Monday to a one-man foot patrol, with no squad car, in the north side area of Milwaukee where a spate of murders has garnered community attention.

Deputy Michael Schuh, a 55-year-old bailiff, was told to take a county bus to and from the neighborhood, contact every home and business, encourage cooperation with police and distribute a Sheriff's Department business card to those he contacts.

"Convince them that we're the good guys/we're on their side and can't succeed without their participation," Schuh was informed in a memo dated Monday from Sheriff's Capt. Eileen T. Richards.

Schuh's newsletter musings questioned Clarke's courage and use of deputies to escort him [apparently in response to something deputies believe Clarke himself wrote!]. [. . .]

In a written statement released Monday night, Clarke wrote that he would assign resources in high-crime areas where they are needed.

"We have to put ourselves in harm's way so that the law abiding people we serve won't have to," Clarke wrote. He said he did not want to waste his time responding to "any baseless insinuation made about what we're doing."
First, we have no word on any other reassignments of anyone to any neighborhoods to put themselves "in harm's way." Just Schuh. That is so Karl Rove.

Second, who the hell really thinks sending an old, balding white guy into a neighborhood with high rates of black-on-black murders is going to solve the problem? Jim Stingl's Sunday column covered this year's increased murder rate, and I don't see anything in there that makes me think a Sheriff's deputy handing out business cards is going to do a thing. As I noted last night in a post about schooling, the whole community needs a serious reinvestment, rethinking, revitalization; as Milwaukee County ADA Mark Williams said (paraphrased) to Stingl, the murders are happening because of "widespread poverty, kids having kids and raising them in a moral vacuum, and easy availability of guns." One business card isn't going to cure that.

So, to sum up: Sheriff Clarke gets to punish a deputy critical of him, and put on a show for the media of "doing something" about the problem of homicide in Milwaukee. In the mean time, we have a serious cultural problem, as evidenced by the young man Stingl quotes at the end of his column:
Incarceration isn't always a deterrent. A young man charged with killing his girlfriend's unborn child by beating the woman wasn't terribly concerned when the woman's sister threatened to call police.

"I don't care," he said. "I got to go to jail one day."
[Update: Bill Christopherson's take on the Xoff Files.]

Monday, July 25, 2005

Two things I left out of yesterday's post

1. Lance Burri seems to be on vacation. He's not just ignoring me.

2. I want to remind everyone of a point that I have made previously when I write about the costs of education, and how to improve teaching and learning in general. I mentioned several Southeastern Wisconsin school districts in the post, and for those of you not familiar with the area, let me go back to two of them and explain the demographics a little more.

Nicolet and Delaven-Darien are at almost polar opposites in the region: Nicolet is tops in per-student spending, per-student property tax revenue, and test scores. Delavan-Darien is near the bottom--49th in spending, 42nd in per-student property tax collections, and near the bottom on test scores. In other ways, they are very similar: Nicolet has 27% minority enrollment and Delavan-Darien has 30%. This means that race is not or should not be a factor in how and why these two districts are so far apart in terms of performance. Nicolet is suburban and Delavan-Darien rural, but otherwise, the difference seems mainly to lie in poverty--both in the poverty of the school district and in the poverty of the students (Delavan-Darien has 35% elligible for free or reduced lunch; Nicolet just 11%).

I've made the argument in terms of urban Milwaukee that true positive change in overall educational outcomes will only come with a reinvestment in the city and a serious attempt to redress decades of neglect and centuries of oppression and abuse. Here we see the same kind of rich-poor dynamic played out with similar (racial) populations, and again, I think that the needs of the community need to be addressed in the Delevan-Darien school district before the test scores will start to look more like the ones in Nicolet. I'm not an expert on what goes on in that district, as its two counties away, but I would venture to guess that the "other 82%" for those students is not spent in book-filled literary households where a college (or college-prep) education is of the highest priority.

If there is anyone who could speak more intelligently about rural districts like Delavan-Darien, I'd love to hear from you in the comments, to see if you think the social-justice model of community redevelopment is as key to improving rural poor districts as urban poor ones.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

More on Education Funding

Allow me a trip in the wayback machine to, well, just a week or so ago, and a post I wanted to write before the iBook fritzed up.

In my essay below on the cost of education, I used a post by righty Wisconsin blogger Lance Burri as a jumping-off point. Lance's very next post was also about schools and education. It's sarcastically titled "Wisconsin has great schools," and Lance points out the seeming contradiction in Wisconsin ecucation advocates' asserting on the one hand that Wisconsin's schools are and excellent and, on the other hand, that funding levels provided by the Republicans in the state legislature are not sufficient to maintain them. In the process, Lance willfully misinterprets the arguments of education advocates, takes the requistite pot-shots and the teachers' union, and once again makes dismissive gestures toward Wisconsin's poor and minority students.

Let's take the willful misinterpretation. Lance writes,
Now, no matter how highly ranked WEAC says we are, or how many of my own criteria we’re meeting, public education in Wisconsin isn’t all sunshine and puppies. Our status as an educational giant is in great jeopardy, placed there by controls on teacher salaries and school spending.

At least, that’s what WEAC says. To combat this, they’re calling for “A revised system of school funding that ensures that every child has access to an adequately funded public education,” and “A fair collective bargaining law for teachers and education support professionals.”

There, again, we have a problem with definitions. What is “adequate funding?” What is a “fair collective bargaining law?”

WEAC’s website provides no further details, so let me fill in the blanks: it means we have to spend more. A lot more.
"Adequate funding," according to WEAC, has nothing to do with spending "a lot more." It has to do, rather, with spending a lot smarter.

In the past several years, there has been quite the to-do over Wisconsin's school-funding formula. Or, rather, there would have been quite the to-do if the Republicans controlling the Wisconsin state legislature weren't so busy fightin the homosexual agenda and the tax-hell chimera. Instead, the findings of the Governor's task force on school funding got buried. Gone. Sunk into oblivion.

But here's some facts for Lance that might make him rethink his position. As a caveat, these are 2003 data, in part because the Public Policy Forum wants $20 for their 2004 report on education in Southeastern Wisconsin. But I doubt there has been significant changes in the last year. The report ranks 50 SE Wisconsin districts. These startling numbers are taken from two neighboring districts in Milwaukee County. I know Lance is from central Wisconsin, but I tend to be Milwaukee-centric, and I have no intention of changing for him. Remember, a rank of one is highest, 50 is lowest:


DistrictPer-Pupil Spending (rank)Prop. Tax Revnue Per Pupil (rank)Free/reduced lunch Elligible (rank)
MPS$9,565 (16)$1,672 (50)76% (1)
Nicolet$13,532 (1)$10,047 (1)11% (22)
I included only a handful of data that are actually relevant to our discussion here. I want to point out, first of all, the striking difference in the two funding numbers. Nicolet Union School District actually collects more in property taxes per student than MPS spends from all sources. Milwaukee also proves to be an incredibly property-poor district, in that it simply cannot raise much revenue from the property tax. These two stats are key to dissecting Lance's argument, both in the current post under discussion, as well as in his overall opinion of public schools. Remember, for example, what Lance wrote in that first post I responded to:
Take two examples: one, a child from a college educated family, whose parents stress education, check homework, read. A house full of books. Two, a child of a single parent who works two jobs, never finished high school. No books in the house, no emphasis or even attention paid to schoolwork.

If we spend $5,000 on the first child’s public education, and $20,000 on the second child’s, which will grow up better educated?
Lance clearly believes that students from districts such as Nicolet, who are far more likely to grow up in in the former situation, and whose 82% of time outside of school is far less of a struggle for mere survival, do not need to have the highest levels of school spending. Of course, he also wants to write off the latter student as well, arguing that additional spending on that student is pointless. But here even Lance would have to concede that there is a schocking inequity, regardless of how effective various funding levels might be at schooling various children. What is it about students from the north shore suburbs that feed Nicloet that makes them worth $4,000 more than the students of Milwaukee? (Other districts are even worse; Burlington is ranked at 50 with just $7,105 in per-pupil spending. Are the students at Nicolet really worth twice those in Burlington?)

This points to the single most important part of school funding reform needs in Wisconsin: Equity. In 2000's Vincent v. Voight, the state Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of our current funding system, but they did note that “Wisconsin students have a fundamental right to an equal opportunity for a sound basic education [. . .] that will equip students for their roles as citizens and enable them to succeed economically and personally.” This decision led indirectly to the task force referenced earlier, and now, as Doug Haselow points out in that last link, funding equity has gotten worse since the veiled threats of Vincent's decision:
It has been almost five years since Vincent v. Voight, yet many districts continue to be held to below average revenues per pupil simply because they were below average when school district revenue limits were enacted in 1993. And some districts continue to have more than twice as much public money to invest in the education of their children as others.

For property taxpayers the inequities are even worse. Some continue to pay property tax rates more than five times as high as others for the purpose of financing the state’s responsibility of a free public education. This occurs because school districts must rely on local property wealth and property poor districts do not have equal access to property tax revenue. When other things are equal the district with the most property wealth will have the lowest tax rate.

The court clearly recognized that some students have additional educational needs and that school districts now bear the costs of meeting those educational needs. Generally, the state has provided some support for meeting those needs through sum-certain categorical aids, but that support seems to be slipping away. [Additional stats to support this at the link.]
I should point out that Milwaukee, which ranks dead last for per-pupil property tax revenues, is essentially at the upper limit of its statutory ability to tax under the legislature's 1993 revenue limits law. Nicolet is not even close. Is that fair to the taxpayers of Milwaukee?

I also included in the table above the figure about students elligible for free and reduced lunch, since Lance makes such a big deal about those students in his post:
In 2003, 35% of all Wisconsin 4th graders scored in the top two categories--proficient and advanced--on the NAEP math test. Only 16% of “eligible” students scored the same.

On the 8th grade math test, 35% of all students scored in the top two categories, compared with only 11% of “eligible” students. Reading tests yielded similar results: the average of all students was 33% and 37% on 4th and 8th grade tests, respectively. The average for “eligible” students: 18% and 16%.

One might suggest that we aren’t providing “great schools” to those students. How can we do better? Is more money the answer?
It's these "elligible" students, as Lance calls them, who suffer the most from what happens in the 82% of their lives spent outside of school. As I pointed out last time, Lance is willing to leave these children behind, in contrast to the national education law and my own attitude as a teacher of these children. Given the dictates of that law--No Child Left Behind--and the clear words of Vincent, we must make the effort to guarantee these children the same opportunity as their more successful peers, and, indeed, teach them until they are equally successful.

At any rate, Lance answers the rhetorical question from above: "Is more money the answer? It might be, if 'eligible' students weren’t sitting right next to their 'non-eligible' peers in class. They all share the same schools, the same classrooms, the same teachers. The opportunities available to one student in a public school are also available to every other student." This is almost laughable, when given the numbers I cited above. In the Milwaukee Public Schools, the odds of one "elligible" student sitting next another in class is extremely good. At Nicolet, not so much. Also consider that Milwaukee ranks 50 out of 50 in every proficiency level and graduation rate. The district with the second-most "elligible" students, Delavan-Darien (whose 35% is less than half Milwaukee's!), is consistently in the high 40s. Racine, also at 35% but ranked third, does slightly worse than Delavan-Darien.

It is these children, these districts that No Child Left Behind was intended to reach (and, I think in my more cynical moments, to punish), and it is these districts' funding issues that we need to look at under Vincent (Delavan Darien is 49 in per-pupil spending; Racine 26). Lance Burri is willing to leave them behind, and, it seems, to consider the "opportunity" provided in these districts--full of poor and minority students--equivalent to districts that spends thousands more per student. WEAC and other education advocates in the state see the inequity here, and want to rectify it. It doesn't necessarily take spending "a lot more," as Lance writes, but rather in a much more equitable distribution of the funds that we currently have--assuming that the legislature no longer reneges on its 2/3 funding promise, of course. (Further reductions in that figure, as the Republicans in Madison tend to want, run the risk of violating Vincent's measures of "adequacy.")

Finally (boy, when my blogging self has been bottled up for so long, it certainly makes no bones about speaking its mind, eh?), Lance pokes the teachers' unions for wanting a "fair collective bargaining law." His response--he ties it in to the "spend a lot more" answer--is another willful distortion of what WEAC and others actually want. Like the straightjacket that limits school districts' ability to raise their own funds, districts and unions are also bound by the Qualified Economic Offer law. The QEO, designed originally to protect those revenue-limited distrcits, allows administration to unilaterally impose a compensation increase of 3.8% to settle a contract. That increase includes both salary and benefits.

This is bad in two ways: First, of course, it does absolutely destroy the collective bargaining process in the state. Wisconsin's teachers are the only organized employees in the state--possibly in the entrie country--who, by state law, can have contracts settled for them, without input or a vote by the represented employees. How is this fair? I know that teacher-union-bashing is reflexive for conservatives (as is union-bashing in general), stemming from the belief that we teachers are to blame for the cost of our benefits rather than, say, double-digit annual health care inflation unchecked by any government agency with the authority to control it. And, since we are responsible for our high benefits (can we talk about our low salaries sometime?), we are clearly responsible for the high taxes they pay, and, since being anti-tax is even more reflexive for conservatives, well, you can do the math.

But consider for a moment the position of teachers in Milwaukee, or Delevan-Darien, or Racine, with the high number of students burdened by the other 82% of their lives, the high number of "elligble" students, the sword of No Child Left Behind's draconian penalties hanging over our heads. What is keeping us in these jobs? Certainly it has something to do with Nicolet's lack of job openings every year. But it also has to do with our benefits--specifically, our health care and our pension. We have bargained away salary increases, especially in the boom-time of the 1990s, in exchange for keeping our benefits and pension. Conservatives want to take those away from us, and, consequently, drive us to Minnesota or, perhaps, out of teaching altogether. Can you imagine the chaos if, for example, the fine people at Google, Inc., stopped offering compensation that would attract qualified people to work there? The internet would almost have to shut down--either that or rely on (shudder) MSN's search functions.

But the second reason why the QEO is killing us is something the conservatives never bother to consider; they bash the union as being greedy and the root of all evil and leave it there. But the QEO has hamstrung distrcits as well. Only the compensation portion of the contract can be adjusted under the QEO, meaning any other issues facing a district have to be deferred another two years. Perhaps more importantly, the QEO allows change in the levels of funding for benefit plans, not for changes within them. So a too-expensive health care provider, for example, can keep milking a district for two more years if the administration imposes the QEO. This is not fair to the students, parents, taxpayers, teachers, or anyone else in that district.

But this is what conservatives want: A preservation of inequity, a preservation of the QEO, and a "too bad" attitude toward poor and minority students in the state. I believe we can do better.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Random Ten

The Surprisingly Jammin' Edition

1. "On The Air" Girlyman from Little Star
2. "All I Ever Wanted" Kirsty MacColl from Electric Landlady
3. "Wanting" The Nields from If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now
4. "Wichita" The Jayhawks from Hollywood Town Hall
5. "These Pines" Kasey Chambers from The Captain
6. "Pig" Dave Matthews Band from Before These Crowded Street
7. "Little by Little" Susan Tedeschi from Just Won't Burn
8. "Party Generation" Dar Williams from End of the Summer
9. "Angry Words" Willy Porter from Dog Eared Dream
10. "5:15" The Who from Quadrophenia

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bigger Victories

The votes are in, and your humble folkbum has been voted Blog of the Week! by the readers of MKE Online.

Thanks to everyone who voted. I encourage you to keep voting now and in future weeks.

What I worry about, of course, is the next semi-final round, in which I'll be up against Bill Christopherson's Xoff Files, which, personally, I will find it very hard not to vote for.

Small Victories

So I picked up my iBook at the Apple Store yesterday. It seems to be working fine. Some of you may remember my previous troubles: When the motherboard failed in September, they replaced the part and, before sending me back my machine, wiped the hard drive, costing me two years' worth of work product and email. Then in February, the hard disk itself failed, and it took two tries before the repair dept got it right (I was able to pull all my data off, so no loss). This time, before the iBook was shipped out for repair, the Apple Genius and I spent about an hour pulling all my data off the hard drive--knowing that there was a good chance that the depot would wipe it--and it came back, of course, in tact. I don't know which corollary to Murphy's law suggests that backing up a computer prevents data loss on the original machine, but it certainly proved true in this case.

My education post below, wherein I coin "The Other 82%," was picked up by Fighting Bob as an article here.

Results are not up yet, as of this writing, in the MKE blog of the week contest. However, next week's contestants are already listed. There are a couple of good sites, including The News is Broken and Leaning Blue, which gets my tentative endorsement, because Belle, the proprietor, had the good sense to blogroll me. It also seems that there is a repeat winner among the contestants . . .

The dog bite is doing well. My arm is still swollen, but I'm getting better.

Most of you know that I'm teaching summer school. Today I lectured them: Okay, I said, I've noticed a startling trend--there is too much copying going on. It seems like you all are relying on a handful of people to do the work and then you're passing it around. But think about something, I said. Think about where you are, and who you're copying from. You're all in summer school, people. The odds are good that the person you're copying from didn't read the directions, either!

Return to regular posts tomorrow, with a Friday Random Ten and some other stuff.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

How to win the peace?

Let's say, just for argument, that it's 2008, and Democrats have reclaimed the Oval Office and both houses of Congress. It's a picture that warms the hearts of leftists everywhere, of course. But what do we do now, particularly with the Republicans that have just been sorely defeated?

It's an important question, and one that is being raised by Aziz Poonawalla at the apparently-not-quite-moribund Dean Nation. Aziz's take on the issue, culled from an impassioned front-page post in which he suggests the creation of a genuine cross-partisan political community:

The problem is that there are very few genuinely purple voices in politics today. Even Dean himself, whose candidacy was as purple as could be, was never able to sell that message to the red aisle - and in so doing let itself be co-opted by the determinedly blue. In other words, Dean never really succeeded in selling the concept of Purple to the Blues. The voice of the Deaniac movement was always the Blue/Progressive one, whereas the actual bulk was ordinary purple folks who just were unable to reclaim the movement from the further left in the eye of the public media. As a result, the large population of Democratic voters who were genuinely receptive to a purple message could not discern what purple there was to be had, and rejected Dean for a more purple-marketed candidate. ...

What a purple revolution needs is not to be hitched to a popular figure's wagon. The decentralization of party politics and the purple-ization of political discourse are two neccessary and complementary forces, both of which must operate in tandem. As long as we wait for our knight in shining armor to rescue us, we will fail, even if that knight is named Obama or Clinton.

Here's where things have to go. A return to general principles - an articulation of what our common ground is, in such a way that every American feels a sense of ownership and camraderie to the ideas being put forth. Maybe He is against privatization of Social Security, whereas She is for it; but both should in general be for the right of Americans to grow old with dignity after a lifetime of labor, without fear of financial and social armageddon, as so characterized the experience of aging in this nation before FDR's New Deal. How we get there is one thing, but we should at least agree on first principles. Let us seek those principles.

Shouldn't abortions be rare? Shouldn't entrepeneurs be encouraged to take risks? Shouldn't employees be judged on merit rather than skin color? Shouldn't consenting adults retain privacy over their affairs? Shouldn't sovereignity of the self remain free of external imposition? Shouldn't we have a right to the fruits of our own labors? Shouldn't we be free? Shoudn't all of mankind be free?

These are the questions that we should be asking of each other, across the red-blue divide. Such a dialouge is impossible however, when conducted under the purview of that dated framework. Instead, we have to conduct the debate as neighbors, as friends, as co-workers, as Americans. Leave your party ID at the door and take this colorblind map of the states with you - we need policy, not ideology, to be the driving force of our discussions, for our own benefit and that of future generations. ...

What is needed is a means of facilitating a community without the partisanship - which requires immense self-control. How do you talk about politics without getting sucked into the gotcha game? I think it is possible. What is needed is a scoop-style site, with an active diarist community and a front-page crew who are committed to maintaining a dialouge at a higher level. Probably, anyone with a membership in a political party would not be suitable for front-page material, as they are compromised by it. It would have to be focused on facts and references, not personalities and agendas. It would need a common set of definitions for terms such as "liberal" and "freedom" and the like, and the comunity would have to be vigilant in self-policing againt the kind of demonization of the Other that occurs so routinely elsewhere.

If such a site could be established, it would mesh well with the emergent grassroots revolution that Dean is fostering. But it would neccessarily be independent as well - and as such would have to be open to participation from politicians on both sides of the aisle. Nay, not just open, but actively recruit. How many regulars at either Dkos or Red State can name a member of the opposing party whom they can genuinely and sincerely praise?

Republicanism is dangerous, and destroying the fabric of our national unity from the edges inward. So too a threat would be Democratism; though right now the emergence of the latter is less a concern. We need a short-circuit of both - to create something new. The future of the political discourse in our nation may well depend on it.


My response in the comments, questioning the need for such a community and arguing that Aziz is underestimating the evils of modern Republicanism:

I do believe that it is necessary to reach across the divide, but not in the spirit of "Can't we just all get along." The problem with America right now is that there is one group of people with whom we can't get along: the Radical Right. As the years roll on and the James Dobsons and Tom DeLay's of the world continue their dominance over American politics, it is increasingly difficult to remember that ten short years ago Bob Dole and John McCain were considered staunch conservatives and the eminently respectable Barry Goldwater was a wingnut.

Right now, the Republican Party -- the real, old-school Republicans, the loyal opposition we used to know -- has a great deal of soul-searching to do. They must choose to expel the Radical Right from their ranks and return to the respectable conservatism that defined their party from Taft to Goldwater. It is a time not unlike the 1870's, when the Moderate Republicans expelled the Radicals from their midst.

As Democrats, we can help the true Republicans first by winning -- by gaining enough political power that we can actually accomplish something. Then, and ONLY then, we must show that we know the difference between Lincoln Chafee and Bill Frist, between George Voinovich and Rick Santorum. The former must be treated with magnanimity, must be encouraged with dialogue and support to expel the enemy from their midst. The latter must be treated with contempt and hounded out of public life.

So there's my plan to win both the war and the peace: first get elected by any means necessary. Then offer sanctuary to the true Republicans and no quarter to the false ones. But ONLY after we've gotten elected.


What do you think of all this? I'm anxious to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Welcome, MKE online voters!

(I'm leaving this post near the top for a while. Scroll down for new content.)

Thank you for taking the time to check out my humble blog before going back to vote in MKE Online's Blog of the Week contest. I am pleased to have been nominated, and hope soon to join the illustrious ranks of previous winners, like my friend Scott, my new hero Xoff, and, um, that rubber stamp lady.

To help you make up your mind, I'd like to offer you all a million dollars some handy links to a few recent "greatest hits" from here at f's r&r. For example, a while back I wrote a series on the Milwaukee Public Schools' high school redesign plan: prelude, and parts 1, 2, 3, 4. You can find some more of my recent education writing here.

Last month I went on vacation, and a fellow Metro-Milwaukeean sat in for me, and wrote, among other things, this great post recapping a town hall meeting with F. Jim Sensenbrenner. And, as long as we're talking politics, you may be interested in an explanation of the Rove/ Plame controversy for fans of "The West Wing."

Anyway, hang out a while, check out the archives, and so forth. Then go vote for me!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

R.I.P. Dean Nation -- a eulogy

Probably many of you didn't even notice, but last Monday Dean Nation died.


We called it lovingly the "U-Blog" or the "DeanBlog".  It's the forgotten chapter in the history of the liberal blogosphere -- the blog that made Joe Trippi a cult hero and launched many of the leading lights in blogotopia today (Marisacat, A Gilas Girl, Colleen, Folkbum, Jonathan4Dean, Jumbo) as well as many passionate voices now silent (Chase, Hamletta, Scott Gamel).  Among its early posters (aside from founder Aziz Poonawalla, who still blogs at City of Brass) were blog titan Annatopia and current DNC Internet Director Joe Rospars.  At the time -- this was before the now-defunct Not Geniuses -- Joe's home base was That Other Blog, where he often posted drunken rants that were enjoyed by me and others.  Those were the days...

It all started like this:


Ok, here we go!


I'm devoting this blog to a collection of links I find about Howard Dean, Democratic governor of Vermont, and candidate for teh Democratoc nomination in the 2004 Presidential Election.


I voted for Gore here in Texas (actually, I vote-swapped with a Nader supporter in Oregon) in 2000. That was mainly a lesser-of-three-evils kind of choice. But with Howard Dean, I feel that there finally is a candidate who really meets my political, social, and economic criteria.


Libertarian civil policy, neo-Wilsonian foreign policy, conservative fiscal policy, liberal social policy. This is where I have evolved to in my own views, esppecially after September 11th. And that's what I see so far with Howard Dean. So, this blog will track him through the press online and I will see if he lives up to his potential.


Let's see where it leads us!


And oh, did it ever lead us...


I was one of those who got my start at Dean Nation -- in December of 2002, a full three months before I started blogging at Kos.  Aziz was supporting Dean because he was a centrist who talked tough to the hacks in Washington, and I got on the bandwagon.  I convinced my friend Lavoisier1794, who at the time was supporting some guy named Kerry, that Dean was the real deal.


Together we watched as first Dean himself and then Joe Trippi discovered the blogosphere through Dean Nation.  I doubt anyone in the blogosphere has ever been so loved and worshipped as was Joe Trippi during those heady days.  (I personally wrote poems to the guy, so...We shared meetup stories with each other (I was one of the founders of my Meetup group here in Flagstaff).  We pledged money.  We joined up with the Dean Defense Forces of another Not Genius, the great Matt Singer (now of Left in the West).  Ezra Klein, originally a Hart blogger, came over and had a few memorable dustups with some of us Deaniacs (and came off extremely well, if I recall correctly).  We were an ever-expanding community, and one that was very necessary for me at a particularly lonely time in my life.


And then, just as suddenly as the Dean Nation had boomed, it busted.  Traffic was drawn off first to the "O-Blog," Blog for America, then to Kos after he became a Deaniac.  After Dean exited the race, Aziz tried to keep the site running, but without the magnetic candidate to support it Dean Nation became a ghost town.  By the end, it seemed as if Aziz was trying to recreate the Dean magic out of a merger between Hillary's centrism and Obama's magnetism -- but it just didn't fly for many of us.  The movement was not dead, but it had moved on from its original stomping grounds.


But there are still some of us who remember those heady days when online politics was new and untested and a few visionaries believed it could change the world.  What we have here today at Kos and throughout the liberal blogosphere, where politicians regularly stop on by and pay homage to the netroots, is primarily the spawn of the great experiment that was Dean Nation.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

When it rains II

So I got bit by the dog today.

She was trying to escape from her crate (as is her wont) and got most of the way out, except her hind foot was caught. I tried to reach in and release the door, and bam! she snared me. Five ghastly puncture wounds on my left arm, but no broken bones or tendon damage.

Props to Chris, the coolest nurse at St. Francis. He rocks. If you're ever at the ER there, ask for him.

I'm sneaking time on Sarah's computer while she's out getting the prescriptions.

On the other hand, I learned today that my dad had a small stroke Thursday (he's seeing double now). And no matter how bad it gets for me, Big Dan still has cancer. He needs the sympathy more.

Friday, July 15, 2005

When it rains . . .

Okay, so it actually hasn't been raining much here in Milwaukee, but my iBook is on the fritz again. It looks and feels like the same motherboard problem I had in September. Thank Jobs for that extended warranty!

Anyway, posting will be light until I am restored to laptopdom. Jeremy, Tim--feel free to jump in and post away!

Oh, and go vote for me please, if you haven't!

[UPDATE: Really, guys, get the extended warranty. All this iBook work I've had done hasn't cost me a penny.]

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Milwaukee's murders, a personal note

A few posts down, I talked about how kids only spend so much of their time in school--18%, though in retrospect, I think even that's high--and how what happens to and around them in the other 82% makes a big difference.

There's a story in yesterday's paper that includes this line: There have been 64 homicides in Milwaukee this year compared with 45 at this time last year.

That's a startling jump. What's more startling is that the article is about a former student of mine, a nice kid who, while not a good student in the traditional sense, nevertheless had promise.

I've also discovered that a second former student of mine, whom I taught this past year, was killed a couple of weeks ago (one of the bullet points further down).

What do you want me to do about test scores again?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rove/ Libby/ Plame scandal for "The West Wing" fans

I know most of you who read the blog are pretty up-to-date on who's who in the scandal-a-minute Bush White House. But the scandal getting press this week is reaching people who don't know all the players. So I've prepared a handy guide for people who know and are fans of "The West Wing," which I hope will make the scandal a little easier for you to follow. References to real-world people are in bold; references to "The West Wing" cast are in italics.

Let's start with the major players:
  • Karl Rove is the President's Deputy Chief of Staff. That makes him the Josh Lyman of the Bush White House. Rove is like our lovable Josh, in that both were instrumental in the campaigns that landed their respective presidents. They also both are very involved in policy-making.
  • Scooter Libby is Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, which makes him like Will Bailey. Now, you may have noticed in the past several seasons that Will has become estranged from Josh and the rest of President Bartlet's team, since Vice President Bingo Bob had designs on the Oval Office for himself. In the case of Cheney, who has no presidential ambitions, his office is instead concerned about running the country. That gives Libby considerably more power than Will.
  • Scott McClellan is the press secretary Bush White House. This is the job that CJ Cregg used to have until Leo McGarry had his heart attack and CJ was promoted to Chief of Staff. McClellan lacks CJ's height, sense of humor, and plausible deniability.
  • Valerie Plame, also known as Valerie Wilson, is a now-outed undercover CIA agent. You can think of her as Kate Harper. Kate, of course, has been promoted to a position of trust and responsibility in the Bartlet White House; but we know from flashback episodes that she used to be deep undercover in that way that Plame, who worked in WMD for the CIA, was until she was outed as an agent in 2003.
  • Ambassador Joe Wilson is Valerie Plame's husband. He doesn't really have a counterpart on "The West Wing," though he looks a little like Danny Concannon.
  • Time Magazine's Matt Cooper is the guy who truly matches up with Danny Concannon, though. Cooper is basically a good-guy journalist who doesn't appreciate being played by the White House. As far as I know, Cooper never gave Scott McClellan a goldfish.
  • The New York Times's Judith Miller is also a journalist--or "journalist," as some of my left-winged blogger friends might call her. She also lacks a parallel on "The West Wing," since there aren't any malicious journalists on that show that I can remember.
  • Robert Novak is not a reporter, not really a journalist--I guess he's more of a pundit or something. He is kind of like Taylor Reed, the TV personality played by Jay Mohr on the show.
  • Patrick Fitzgerald is the prosecutor looking into the matter, who has impaneled a Grand Jury to determine whether or not the leaking of Valerie Plame's name to media figures such as Cooper, Miller, and Novak, is a violation of the law. he's a lot like Cliff Calley, who was the Senate Majority Counsel who investigated Leo and the Bartlet administration for their cover-up of Bartlet's MS.

Now that you know how the players match up to the characters on "The West Wing," here's a quick review of the plot so far ("The West Wing" helps in parentheses):
  • In 2002, Bush (Bartlet) was trying to gather evidence about Saddam Hussein's WMD capability. He believed, for example, some documents that later turned out to be forged, that indicated that Saddam wanted yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney (Bingo Bob Russell) and Scooter Libby (Will Bailey) were concerned about those documents. So the CIA, with or without the VP's office's authorization, sent Wilson, who was a former abassador to Niger, to check it out, in part based on a recommendation from Plame (Kate Harper). Wilson realized that the report was false, and told the agency. Information about African yellowcake was struck from a November speech in Cincinnati.
  • In 2003, the famous "16 words" about yellowcake ended up in the State of the Union. Pretty quickly, State and the CIA backed off the claim.
  • In July, Wilson published an Op-Ed in the New York Times saying that the "16 words" should never have been in the SotU, since he debunked the claim. A short time later, Novak (Taylor Reed), citing two "high-ranking government sources," believed to be Libby (Bailey) and Rove (Josh Lyman), wrote a column saying that Wilson shouldn't be trusted since his wife (Kate Harper) was responsible for sending him. Novak (Reed) called her a CIA agent, and later, on TV, named the CIA front company she worked for. The leaks were apparently done in attempt to discredit Wilson, a serious administration critic.
  • The CIA investigated and decided that the leak of the name was serious enough to refer to prosecutor Fitzgerald (Cliff Calley). Scott McClellan(CJ Cregg) flatly denied that Rove (Josh) was involved.
  • After what seems like forever, we get to 2005. Fitzgerald (Cliff) subpoenaed a bunch of reporters and other things. Bush (Bartlet) is on record that this kind of leak is bad news and said he would fire the leaker. Two reporters have not testified, Miller and Cooper (Danny Concannon). Last week, the Supreme Court said they could not rely on First Amendment protections, so they prepared to go to jail on contempt. Miller is there now, but Cooper (Danny) gets pissed off at Rove's (Josh's) lawyer, and decides to testify.
  • The speculation now is that Miller is mostly protecting herself, not her source, and that Rove (Josh) is under investigation for perjury. McClellan (CJ) is falling apart under press gaggle questioning, and the noose is tightening on Rove (Josh).

And this is where we are. I hope that helps.

But to further my "The West Wing" comparison, you have to realize that the Bartlet administration would probably not end up in this kind of mess. Josh Lyman and Will Bailey are smart enough not to leak an undercover CIA agent's name, even "accidentally on purpose." Leo (and now CJ), as Chief of Staff, wouldn't tolerate that kind of crap. (Andrew Card, Bush's Chief of Staff, seems a non-entity in this story; he totally has no control over Rove or Libby.) Is the Bartlet administration perfect? Of course not--they lied about Jed's MS, they broke international law, they handed the White House over to John Goodman, for goodness' sake. But they would never disclose an agent's name in a time of war. As Ainsley Haines, Republican that she was, noted, they are good people, patriots, committed to the country, and she found that noble even when she disagreed with them.

Rove--and Cheney and Libby, for that matter--are not patriots. They will put politics, like character assassination, ahead of country every time.

Here's a problem for the economists in the audience

Let's say you're the chief foreperson at a factory that makes, oh, I don't know, widgets. (Stop me if you've heard this before.)

Now, this widget factory is different from all those widget factories you ran in Econ 101. See, your customers get these widgets for free. All of the money that it takes to make the widgets comes from an investor, who gets his own reward later based on the success of your widgets. I told you it was complicated. Well, no, I didn't, but you should have guessed.

Anyway, for you, the cost of making widgets keeps going up. You know, materials get more expensive. Your workers--who, by the way, are required by law to be more highly qualified than most workers--want more money or they'll leave for more lucrative careers in advertising or, perhaps, waitressing. To top it off, you are also required to make more widgets every year, and the quality of your widgets must continue to increase, as measured by exacting government standards administered by the Department of Widgets.

Here's the rub: Your investor, a decade ago, made you a deal. You were not allowed to seek outside funds to help defray the cost of making your widgets, and this investor would provide you with a set, predictable set of funds annually to support your work. And that worked out okay, up until two years ago, when you found that the investor--because of some trouble he had with his finances--reneged on the deal, and cut your funds for each of the last two years. The investor did not give you leave to raise extra funds, and he did not cut you any slack on either the number or quality of your widgets. But the investor promised you that he would get back up to the promised rate of funding again as soon he got his financial house back in order.

So this summer, with that financial house back in order, you fully expected your investor to get your funds back to where they should be--where you need them to be in order to maintain your widget production. Except, not. Turns out your investor is going to short you again, for the next two years.

So what do you do? You have costs of production outpacing your income from the investor. You have to increase production levels and quality without additional funds and limited opportunities to find eficiencies or cut costs elsewhere. What is there to be done?

See, I want to know, really, I need to know, given that this is exactly what Wisconsin public schools are facing. Any help?

Sensenbrenner Follow-Up

As a follow-up to my Sensenbrenner piece below, dragonlady at SensenbrennerWatch has found hard evidence of F. Jim's hypocrisy:
In a speech (.pdf) delivered at Stanford University on May 9, 2005, Rep. Sensenbrenner spoke about his committee's investigation into whether the federal judiciary should have an inspector general to ferret out “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This is worrisome because of separation of powers issues, although Sensenbrenner doesn't see it that way. But note the passages I've highlighted:
I do not believe that creating an IG for the Judiciary will violate the separation-of-powers doctrine that promotes the independence of the three branches of government. Each of the branches are independent and have a job to do. The Judiciary isn’t supposed to write law and the Congress cannot determine how a court will rule. But the branches are interdependent entities as well. As such, congressional fulfillment of its constitutional oversight responsibility of the Judiciary does not threaten judicial independence....

Now, it is one thing for Congress to monitor how the courts are set up; it is quite another thing to tell them how they must author opinions. Which brings us to the issue de jour of congressional-judicial relations....

Like other Members of Congress, I was not enthralled with the outcome of the Schiavo case in Florida. I was closely involved in the Schiavo case where Congress and the President went to extraordinary effort to ensure Terri Schiavo’s civil rights were protected. My biggest beef with the Federal Judiciary’s handling of the case involves the Federal Judiciary not accepting jurisdiction when Congress and the President enacted a law giving it to them. The new, full, and fresh review of the case’s merits did not occur as required by the law.

While I vociferously disagree with the Federal Judiciary’s handling of this case, that does not mean that Congress should respond by attempting to neuter the courts, that is, by preventing them from doing what they have done for 200 years: interpret the law.
So why did Jim write that letter if he believes Congress shouldn't interfere with judicial decisions? Did he change his mind between May and June? Did he forget what he said then? Does he just not know what he's doing these days? You be the judge.
Because I try to maintain an air of non-partisanship on SensenbrennerWatch, I won't say this over there: It's time to support Bryan Kennedy. F. Jim is just simply out of control.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The cost of education

Lance Burri has a post up from last Friday noting Libby Burmaster's second inaugural speech and making a couple of good points. In fact, I can agree wholeheartedly--though I seldom do--on this point:
Now, obviously, schools have to do more than just exist and not charge tuition. They have to teach something. The question is: what, and how much?

And how much does it matter? Take two examples: one, a child from a college educated family, whose parents stress education, check homework, read. A house full of books. Two, a child of a single parent who works two jobs, never finished high school. No books in the house, no emphasis or even attention paid to schoolwork.

If we spend $5,000 on the first child’s public education, and $20,000 on the second child’s, which will grow up better educated?

There’s a limit to what the schools can do. The rest has to come from us, as students, as the parents of students, and as adults--just getting that diploma, even the one from college, isn’t enough to ensure success. Neither does school. School is an opportunity, not a solution. It’s us, ourselves, who make or break our chance at success.
The fact is that students, believe it or not, only spend about 18% of their time with us teachers in their first 18 years. Goodness knows it often feels like more--I would imagine as much for them as it does for me--but that's it. Eighteen percent.

And I have said before and I will say again that what happens in the other 82% is just as important, if not moreso, than what happens within school walls. That is why, in my series on small schools, for example, I noted that small schools would not be any better at solving the problems of urban education overall because the problems of urban education often begin and end in the community. In Milwaukee, we have staggeringly high unemployment, appalling rates of teen pregnancy, and the kind of segregation that most of the country only reads about in history textbooks.

If that's the 82%, I can't fix it in the time a student is in my classroom.

Problem is, I want to. I want to use every last resource available to me to do every last thing I can to provide the students I teach with the fullest opportunity available to them. Call it quixotic, call it white liberal guilt, it doesn't matter. It's how and feel and what I do. If I wanted to only teach Lance's "first child," I would look for a job in the suburbs. With my resume, I could probably get one. But I don't.

Here's the thing: When you have to make up for the challenges that the other 82% of a child's life provides, it does, in fact, cost more than it does to teach students who don't have the kind of challenges most of my students do. There are facts that may make anti-tax and anti-public education people uncomfortable, especially if they are observing these facts from the comfort of their college-educated, book-reading households. When a child does not speak English, it takes more public education resources to teach that child. When a child has lead poisoning, it takes more public education resources to teach that child. When a child comes to school hungry, it takes more public education resources to teach that child.

And so on.

One of my big problems with Gregg Underheim's platform, such as it was, and J-Dizzle's big "school funding reform" panel's recommendations is that they all asked for a "study" to see what makes low-spending, high-achieving school districts so great. The answer, of course, is duh, accompanied by a big smack in the face. Low-spending, high-achieving districts are not, by and large, burdened by those students who require the additional public education resources to get their students up to standards.

But Lance loses me on two points: First, he has to take the requisite right-wing jab at teachers. Near the start of his piece, he notes, "We’re also near the top in total teacher compensation and spending per student." This is not said boastfully, mind you, but underhandedly in that he connects Wisconsin's apparently extravagant spending to your high property taxes--the rest of that paragraph is all about taxes. Let's look at facts:

Wisconsin currently rates, depending on whose estimate you choose, either 22nd or 27th in the nation for teacher salaries. (We're 35th for starting teachers.) Our total compensation--including health benefits (won in part in exchange for these lower salaries)--puts us at 16th in the nation. If by "near the top," Lance meant "at the bottom of the top third," then he's right. Otherwise, he's mistaken.

As to per-pupil spending, according to the Census Bureau (.pdf), we rank 12th of 51. So, yeah, top quarter and all. But remember three things: One, we consistently rank in the top five for educational quality--ACT scores and whatnot--so we get a good return on that investment. Two, we spend less than $1000 more per student than the national average, or about 11%. Is it worth 11% for the higer outcomes we get? And three--if we're 12th in per-pupil spending but 16th in compensation--27th in salary--that extra money isn't all going into our (or our doctors') pockets, now, is it?

But here's the other way Lance blows it, and kills any chance he and I had of total agreement on the matter. He writes,
We need to [. . .] agree that our task is to offer the opportunity--not to ensure that every student takes it. We will provide the buildings, classrooms, blackboards and computers. We’ll supply university-trained professional teachers, free transportation, and a curriculum that teaches, at a minimum, the basics of what it takes to succeed, so students will have more opportunities throughout their lives. We’ll provide tests to gauge achievement, and we’ll let those who fail at first keep trying.
What it sounds like Lance is advocating here is stripped-down, bare-bones education. That probably would make the anti-tax and anti-public education crowd of his happy. But notice what else he's talking about here: He's advocating that we stop being proactive in our approach to public education in ths state, that we let the chips fall where they may and if the (cough*white*cough) kids from college-educated, book-reading households get further ahead faster, than so be it. We save, in his example, $15k for each poor kid.

Moreover, he is advocating a wholesale abandonment of No Child Left Behind. The very core of NCLB is that schools, districts, and states must not be allowed to let the chips fall wherever. If there are problems, they must be solved or else the schools, districts, and states face the consequences.

Look, there is a lot to hate about No Child Left Behind (including what it adds to your property tax bill!), but the principal of the thing is sound. If Lance wants to lead a Wisconsin-blogger charge against the absurd and draconian testing-punishment side of NCLB, I will be the first in line to join him. But if he merely wants to abandon Wisconsin's 82% problem children in the name of saving money, his heart is colder than I could have imagined.

Your Howard Dean post for this quarter

The one or two of you who remember this blog from, say, 2003, know that I was a huge Howard Dean guy. Lately though, I haven't been writing about him. Turns out that later this week he's here in Milwaukee to speak to the NAACP convention. Then he hits I-94 to drive up to Madison for a fundraiser. Here's the skinny:

Grassroots fundraiser with Governor Howard Dean
The Orpheum Theater
216 State Street
Madison

5-7:30 PM

Suggested Contribution: $25 or whatever you can afford.

Yeeeaaarrrrrgggh!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Tale Of Two Cities(' Newspapers)

This is another post about F. Jim Sensenbrenner. Is he my congressman? No, thank goodness. The FBI would probably be living at my house, especially if I made a habit of going to his town hall meetings.

It's also another in my continuing series on why the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sucks. Give a news organization a monopoply, and this is what you end up with, folks: anemic reporting, and cluelessness in the editorial boardroom.

Check out today's front-page story by Craig Gilbert:
Iron will brings perils, payoffs for Sensenbrenner
He defends leadership style by showing results


When Jim Sensenbrenner is making news, it often means one thing. Somebody is ticked off. Sometimes it's him. Sometimes it's the Democrats. Sometimes it's his own side. But to the powerful House Judiciary Committee chairman, that isn't all bad.

"It is very hard to make a difference and actually change things if you have a reputation of 'going along to get along' for everything," said the Wisconsin Republican in a long interview about his event-filled chairmanship.

"People who cave too early simply because they like to see more 'smiles' end up failing at actually making the changes I think everybody who runs for office wants to accomplish," Sensenbrenner said.
And so begins a relatively flattering piece on F. Jim. Really--I read the whole thing looking for the promised "perils." Seems the only "peril" is that he makes people mad. The story even includes a number of Democrats who must have been lined up at Craig Gilbert's door to praise the pompous jerk. "Oooooh, he's so even-handed," they say. "Aaaaah, he's so good at what he does."

Horseflop.

Compare, now, the front page story in this morning's Chicago Tribune*:
Lawmaker prods court, raises brows
Demands longer term in Chicago drug case


In an extraordinary move, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee privately demanded last month that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago change its decision in a narcotics case because he didn't believe a drug courier got a harsh enough prison term.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), in a five-page letter dated June 23 to Chief Judge Joel Flaum, asserted that a June 16 decision by a three-judge appeals court panel was wrong. [. . .]

[Jay] Apperson, who is chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee, argues that Sensenbrenner is simply exercising his judicial oversight responsibilities. But some legal experts believe the action by the Judiciary Committee chairman, who is an attorney, is a violation of House ethics rules, which prohibit communicating privately with judges on legal matters, as well as court rules that bar such contact with judges without contacting all parties.

Further, the letter may be an intrusion on the Constitution's separation-of-powers doctrine, or, at least, the latest encroachment by Congress upon the judiciary, analysts said.

David Zlotnick, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and an expert on federal sentencing law, said, "I think it's completely inappropriate for a congressman to send a letter to a court telling them to change a ruling."

However, Stanley Brand, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former House counsel, said: "I don't think it's appropriate, but I don't know if it rises to the level of an ethical violation. It's unseemly. It's not something members ought to do, but they do it. . . . The context is troubling."
The story goes on for three web pages, providing solid reporting and thoughtful and varied analysis--as opposed to Gilbert's puff piece. The Trib notes that the appeals court issued a revised ruling specifically to explain why F. Jim was legally wrong on the issue, and how F. Jim the whined to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the matter. The Trib also provides a long and disturbing section on the context of F. Jim's interference--the long list of Republican's efforts to poke their noses in from Congress on judicial matters over the last several years.

I wonder if maybe Craig Gilbert should re-think the flattery: He notes that F. Jim gets compared to a rottweiller or pit bull. Jackal is more like it.

[* Login to the Trib: kos@dailykos, dailykos]

Friday, July 08, 2005

Friday Random Ten

The Feelin' Hot Hot Hot--Turn Up the AC! Edition

1. "Side of the Road" Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert from Side of the Road
2. "If Your Love is Real" David Gray from Lost Songs
3. "No More Excuses" Lucky Kaplansky from Every Single Day
4. "If I Had You" Diana Krall from All For You
5. "Welcome to the Machine" Pink Floyd from Wish You Were Here
6. "Roscoe" Bill Frisell from Good Dog, Happy Man
7. "Lonely Holiday" Old 97s from Fight Songs
8. "Come Back to Bed" John Mayer from Heavier Things
9. "Confirmation" Chris Smither from Live at McCabe's
10. "Consequence Free" Great Big Sea from Road Rage

Thursday, July 07, 2005

In happier news

Matt Langer's back with Retelevised. He ran untelevised.net for a couple of years, and was one of the first bloggers I read regularly. Welcome back, Matt.

(He does need to update his state-by-state listings, though.)

Speaking of the governor,

be glad that I am not he. I would be sooooo tempted to use my line-item veto to do childish things like spell out booger or cut John Gard's pay 90%, by moving the decimal point . . .

Oh, and I think there's real news in there somewhere about something. A budget, maybe?

Was the governor in town?

On my way to work this morning, I saw a truck with the license plate J Dizzle. I kid you not.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I could blog about something important

Like the state budget's being passed by the legislature under the threat of J-Dizzle's veto.

Instead, let's talk about how the lottery is racist:
Nearly one-third of all state lottery tickets sold in southeastern Wisconsin last year were sold in poor neighborhoods, and players in these areas hoping to strike it rich have not seen as many big payoffs as the rest of the region, a Journal Sentinel analysis shows. [. . .]

[Some poor lootery loser] lives in the 53210 ZIP code, where, according to U.S. Census data, almost 25% of residents live below the poverty level. In that area, a total of $3.3 million worth of lottery tickets were sold during the 2003-'04 fiscal year.

Yet, residents of that area won only about $145,000 in prizes of more than $600 each. That's about 4 cents for every $1 spent in lottery tickets. Only prizes greater than $599 are tracked by the lottery by winner because those winning tickets must be taken to a state lottery validation center to be cashed.

Most other high-poverty areas of southeastern Wisconsin had similar ratios of lottery sales to winnings. [. . .] Overall, in 18 ZIP code areas of southeastern Wisconsin with the poverty rates of 10% or more, a total of $54.8 million worth of lottery tickets were sold. That's 32% of total sales in the entire region of $171 million during 2003-'04. Lottery sales statewide that year totaled $483 million. The statewide poverty rate was 8.7% in 2000.

In those higher-poverty ZIP codes, the return in big payouts of residents' ticket purchases was about 6 cents on the dollar (though a couple of ZIP codes had much higher winning rates - in 53212, with a 36% poverty rate, it was 22 cents on the dollar, for example). [. . .] And in wealthiest ZIP codes areas in southeastern Wisconsin, the proportion of winnings to tickets sold is more than double that of the poorest areas. [. . .]

For example, in the 53045 ZIP code in Brookfield, where the median household income is about $85,000, there were $1.2 million worth of lottery tickets sold in 2003-'04. Residents of that ZIP code won more than $520,000, about 45 cents for every dollar spent on tickets.
Okay, so the article says that the lottery is classist, but when we talk about poor Milwaukee and wealthy suburbs, we know we're really talking about race, aren't we?

Clearly, it's time for the legislature to take care of this issue. It's at least as important as, say, banning gay marriage, right?